ST. LOUIS (AP) — The Missouri Supreme Court turned away appeals Tuesday on behalf of white supremacist serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin just hours before his scheduled execution, leaving few options to spare his life.
Franklin, 63, is scheduled to die at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday for killing 42-year-old Gerald Gordon in a sniper attack outside a suburban St. Louis synagogue in 1977. It was one of as many as 20 killings committed by Franklin, who targeted blacks and Jews in a cross-country killing spree from 1977 to 1980.
He was convicted of seven other murders but the Missouri case was the only one resulting in a death sentence. Franklin has also admitted to shooting and wounding civil rights leader Vernon Jordan and Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt, who has been paralyzed from the waist down since the attack in 1978.
The state's high court declined to grant a stay Tuesday based on three separate appeals: One claiming Franklin's life should be spared because he is mentally ill, one claiming faulty jury instruction when he was given the death penalty, and one raising concern about Missouri's first-ever use of a new execution drug, pentobarbital. The rulings were without comment.
Appeals were still pending before federal courts, said Franklin's attorney, Jennifer Herndon. Flynt has also sued to stop Franklin's execution because he doesn't believe the death penalty is a deterrent.
The state Supreme Court's ruling followed a decision on Monday by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon denied Franklin's clemency request, calling his crime a "cowardly and calculated shooting."
It "was only one of many senseless acts of extreme violence that Franklin, motivated by racial and religious intolerance, committed against numerous victims across the country — from Tennessee and Ohio to Utah and Wisconsin," Nixon said in a statement.
Nixon, a Democrat, was the state's attorney general for several years before his election as governor in 2008, and has long been a staunch supporter of the death penalty.
Last month, though, Nixon halted the execution of another convicted killer, Allen Nicklasson. At that point, Missouri had planned to be the first-ever state to use the drug propofol as a lethal drug. That prompted an outcry from the medical profession because most propofol is manufactured in Europe and the European Union threatened to limit export of the popular anesthetic if it was used in an execution.
Nixon ordered the Missouri Department of Corrections to come up with a new drug. The department turned to pentobarbital made through a compounding pharmacy. Few details have been made public about the compounding pharmacy because it is part of the execution team and state law provides for privacy for all associated with executions.
Herndon said this week Franklin is a paranoid schizophrenic who now regrets his crimes, having had a change of heart after serving time alongside black inmates.
In an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Monday, Franklin insisted he no longer hates blacks or Jews. While he was held at St. Louis County Jail, he said he interacted with blacks at the jail, "and I saw they were people just like us."
He has made similar statements to other media but has denied repeated interview requests from The Associated Press. Herndon said Franklin's reasoning exemplified his mental illness: Franklin told her the digits of the AP's St. Louis office phone number added up to what he called an "unlucky number," so he refused to call it.